Victim Blaming And My Dear Mother-in-law

“I don’t understand these made up names, like LaWanda or D’Quisha. You’re not helping yourself out. When they send a resume or apply for a job, people aren’t going to take them seriously.”

Racism is at its most dangerous when it is couched in everyday actions, familiar statements and sentiments, and seemingly sensible statements. This is how it is passed along, how it becomes normalized. The above quote – paraphrased, as it was a while ago and I don’t recall the exact wording – comes from my mother-in-law. If pressed, I’m sure she would rationalize it with a perfectly valid explanation in her mind as to how it’s not racist, possibly twisting it into being helpful advice. (Aside: she can rationalize anything. An. Y. Thing.)

It struck a chord with me because it is pure victim blaming. She’s putting the burden of avoiding being a victim of racism squarely on the victims. “Don’t use those names if you don’t want to be judged by them.” It’s not far off from saying that women shouldn’t dress a certain way if they don’t want to be harassed or worse. But there’s no way she’d see it that way, sadly. The whole “made up names” idea is another thing. As opposed to what – those naturally forming names? All names are made up. What she really means is names we don’t use in white American culture (if that’s even a thing).

The difficult thing is that my wife and I just had a baby girl. My wife technically had her, all credit due, but I did hold a leg and offer words of encouragement. They both did great, but that’s another story. And of course my mother-in-law, or Babcia as grandma’s are called in Polish, has a right to get to know her granddaughter. So she’ll be around, but at the first sign of her spewing latent racist garbage there’s going to have to be a serious reassessment of the state of affairs.

She goes to church at least once a week, loves her family, and sees herself as a genuinely good and caring person. And in some ways she is right. And that’s one of the hard truths of life, that there are no pure heroes or villains. There are, however, subtle undercurrents that we must be aware of, lest we be doomed to repeat ourselves. I want better, not just for my baby daughter, but for her the entire generation. The status quo is unsustainable.

Tragedy

Tragedy

Noun  |  trag-e-dy  |  \’ tra-je-dé

 

I’m just a guy with a blog, I don’t go around referring to myself as a Blogger. And usually I’m more concerned with exploring the mechanics of creative writing than political commentary. But I keep coming back to these thoughts, and by the way I’m not claiming this is “news” or even  “fake news,” which I thought was The Onion but maybe I’m wrong. Furthermore, no massacre, real or fictitious, occurred during the writing of this piece. You may carry on if you wish.

In the Trump camp, it seems like there’s this ego-fueled attitude that they can do and say whatever and it won’t matter. Like the “alternative facts” spate, having public beef with a department store (??), Sean Spicer’s ranting to the press about the press, or Kellyanne Conway’s transmissions from another galaxy. Of course, it’s coming down from Trump himself. He has set the tone for the team, as evidenced by, oh, his whole life before deciding to be a politician, and even then, a sizeable portion of his political life as well. He said himself that he could stand in Times Sq. and shoot someone, an act most reasonable people would find objectionable, but his supporters wouldn’t care.

It must be liberating, in a way, for his cabal. I picture a big sign over the doorway out of the oval office, like the famous Notre Dame football team’s “Play like a champion today” sign, except this one says “Just do whatever!” and everyone touches it ritualistically on their way out into the real world. Hey, if their coach got away with mimicking a disabled man, questioned Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero*, or grabbed them by the – ahem – heartstrings and tugged on them mightily, then they must feel freed up to just be themselves! Yay.

But maybe, just maybe, that same lack of concern for recourse which once served him well in the public sector is now a serious threat to the nature of a democracy. Accountability is needed for a democracy to function. Not to say that the individuals elected to govern will take accountability, or will always comport themselves in a way beholding to their peeps. But on a high level, the structure of a democracy is such that the people choose their representatives, who then have term limits before an open, transparent (hopefully), election. Being able to vote people in and out of office is the recourse of the people, and the reason why accountability is huge. *squints and points with index fingertip and thumb touching* It’s gonna be YOOGE.  When a democracy loses this leg of the table, it’s not far off from collapsing into a regime.

From a marketing point of view, this is all on-message for the Trump brand. Do some word association with “Trump” and you’ll probably get ego alongside wealth and possibly success, as the core brand values. So the display of arrogance throughout the administration is not likely to go away anytime soon. Though, you could argue that there is a fundamental shift in how the Trump brand is perceived. According to Allen Adamson, head of marketing firm Brand Simple, what the surname stands for now includes “outspoken, politically incorrect views that target a rural, white, male, audience.” I quoted Mr. Adamson because I couldn’t have said it better.

One gets the sense that this play is destined to be a tragic one, in the classical sense, not just the colloquial way it’s used to mean “real bad.” But as in the story of a person of prominence who falls to disaster because of the very characteristic which made them successful to begin with. Pride becomes hubris eventually, and it’s just a matter of time before it reaches a critical mass. The only question is how many people will he bring down with him?

 

*To date, the only record of Donald Trump serving was during the Cola Wars.